Stop it and Just Write!
Well, Neopia, I feel that it is time to do something I never thought I'd do. I'm writing a serious article about the one thing I think I've gotten to the point where I actually have some useful information to share: Writing.
I'm not here to tell you how to write the best story ever, how to avoid silly little errors, or anything useful like that. Fyora knows that I find plenty of errors as soon as my stories are held over, I'm hardly the best writer ever, and my advice for writing usually involves throwing words at walls.
I'm here to tell you something I've learned and needs to be shared: just write.
Yeah, it's that simple. Really, it is. And, sure, you're probably thinking, 'Well, duuuuuh, Kristykimmy.' But, that's where you're wrong. I've discovered that there are so many roadblocks standing in a hopeful writer's way. Not just the obvious ones like Kass Basher and the Wheel of Monotony, but well-intentioned bad advice and the occasional erroneous rumor. Here, I'm going to tackle the ones that bother me most and hope that what I say will help at least one writer out there.
1: Humans exist, really!
Okay, I haven't a clue where this rumor started, but I see it all the time and it really makes me tear my hair out. There is a rumor that circulates the pretty much everywhere that has anything to do with the Neopian Times.
You cannot have human characters in your NT stories.
That's bigger rubbish than the dump in Meridell. Anyone who has read my NT stories knows I disproved this about seventy times over. You can have human characters in your stories. You can totally write about the time your wonderful pets decided to eat your jelly collection and sold their younger brother to pirates and how much you had to pay to get him back.
Of course, this human character has to be a Neopian as much as your Neopets are. So, you can't go off talking about earth or making references to earth pop culture that don't relate in Neopia, because in the Neo-verse, earth doesn't exist.
This is one of the big ones, because every time I see this crop up, it is someone telling some hopeful writer that their story can't get into the Neopian Times simply because there is a human in it. So, of course, said writer gets sad and stops writing their story, and that's where the damage comes in. They stop writing.
Come on, let's stop this right here. Tell all your friends, tell them to tell their friends, and let's finally end this rumor and stop the spread of writing killing rumors.
2: The Fine Art of the Cliché
I've got a bit of a pet peeve to rant about, and I don't think I'm the only one. It is the 'Cliché'. However, I'm not here to complain about people who write clichéd stories or characters, I'm here to protest those who tell others to avoid them.
I was struck by how dangerous this one unhelpful but commonly stated piece of advice is recently. I found myself reading yet another petpage, something posted on the NW Neoboard as a NT writer's guide. There are plenty of those out there, and too many of them have the same snare in them. The 'avoid the clichés' section.
As I read this guide, I realized that if I had read this back a few years ago and followed its advice on the 'don'ts' I would not have written half as much as I have today. Particularly, I would not have written some of my most popular stories or created some of my favorite characters.
Which is why I cannot stay silent in the face of this seemingly innocuous threat.
Now, think about this, what isn't a cliché these days? What hasn't been done before? Nothing really. Go ahead, take your favorite story and break it down, analyze it to death. I'm sure you'll find all the plot elements are as old as time itself.
So, what is it that makes this story wonderful? What elevates it to your favorite? It is the writing, the way the writer spins the story, the personalities of the characters that makes it wonderful, clichés and all?
To illustrate this point, thought we'd break down one of my stories. To date, Child of the Drenched seems to be the most popular story I have written for the NT. I still get the occasional fanmail about it, despite it being over two years old.
Magic child spirited away for her abilities: that is so original, isn't it?
Girl trapped under the sea who longs for the world above the waves: If you haven't heard that one in exactly that and other various forms your parents clearly didn't read you enough bedtime stories.
Naïve girl getting tricked into working for an evil villain pretending to be a do-gooder: To name something directly, that's not too far off from Hannah and Kanrik at the beginning of the Ice Caves Plot, now is it?
The hunt for Mara's real parents: Yeah, that's like every other story with a kid who has either been adopted or parents mysteriously disappeared.
The confrontation with the Youngest Drenched sister about Mara's past: I'll bet you can think of five or six other similar scenes off the top your head, can't you?
Obligatory happy ending: Well, that says it all right there, doesn't it?
And that's just to name the big ones. Break it down and analyze it and I'm sure you can point out how every single element of the story is one long running cliché. In spite of that, people still like it. And why is that? Well, that's beyond me; I just wrote the thing.
However, the original idea that spawned Child of the Drenched was so much more clichéd than it wound up being. In fact, it was such a string of the most ridiculous stereotypical fluff that it's embarrassing to think of it. I knew that, but I still felt that there was something interesting enough in it to try writing anyway, and it came out very different.
Honestly, go read some art books that focus on character design. You'll notice that the characters often start out wildly different and change to get their unique qualities as the artist refines them. The same thing will be true for your characters if you just write them and work with them, no matter how contrived they seem at first glance.
So, please, no matter how clichéd your idea seems, write anyway. It might surprise you by taking an unexpected turn, as Child of the Drenched did for me, or maybe the characters will simply be lovable enough that no matter how ridiculous the story is it will make for an enjoyable read despite how predictable they all were.
You never know until you write.
3: Take criticism with a grain of salt.
Now, critiques are wonderful things in the grand scheme of things, and you really should learn to take them seriously. There are many people out there who can give you wonderful tips on how to shape your stories better if you let them.
But, at the same time, even the most well-meaning people can be downers.
No matter how good a writer the other person may be, they don't know everything, particularly when it comes to the unwritten. Going back to the cliché, an unwritten idea can be vastly different when actually written. Breaking something down to the base elements really tells you little about how the story will turn out in the end. Never avoid writing something because someone tells you they think it won't work.
A friend shared with me a story of her own experience with this. She wrote a story simply because another writer told her it wouldn't get accepted into the Neopian Times. Despite some second guessing on her part (something more I'll address in the next part), she submitted it and it was held over and accepted into the NT with no troubles.
You'll probably be able to tell rather quickly the good reviews from the bad, but these ones often masquerade as good ones because the people telling you this actually think they mean well. In reality, telling someone not to waste their time writing something is honestly the worst advice you can ever give. Unless you're very lucky, not everything you write will get published; that has happened to me with a few stories. However, what I've learned from the things that weren't good enough to get published was worth the time it took to write it.
Even if you learn 99 ways how not to write a story, then you've learned something you'll take with you for story number 100.
4: Stop second guessing yourself.
When it comes to writing for the Neopian Times, I see so many people asking 'Can I include (insert whatever here)?'. Now, as I've a lot of experience with much of the can do and cannots, I try to step in, but my best advice usually is read the rules of the NT and then give it your best shot.
Half the time when someone asks that question, they often get three different answers, some of which aren't even helpful which makes it confusing. The trick is not to get hung up on whether or not that fight scene in your story is too graphic or not, if you can include space aliens, or if Dr. Sloth is just too mean. So long as you know you haven't violated a clear rule, just give it a shot. At worst, your story will be rejected with a note telling you it wasn't considered appropriate, at which time you'll have your answer and can rework that particular plot element.
Most people are fine and would probably get in with no trouble, but they still get hung up and start wavering about whether they should try at all. My advice is always just try. It'll cost you nothing to try, and once you do, whether it is a rejection or a holdover, you'll have your answer.
So, that's really all there is to this. There are plenty of good articles out there, some fantastic guides to the NT, but again, take them all with a grain of salt. Things change over time, people don't know it all, and even the most experienced writer can make mistakes and write derpy purple prose characters on a bad night. None of the above is a reason to not write, regardless of the outcome.
To recap, my main advice is simply to write. Just write, regardless of the haters, the well-meaning bad advice, and the annoying voices in your head that like to tell you how stupid what you just wrote was. If you truly want to be a writer, learn to love writing for simply writing's sake, regardless of whether or not the world will ever see it. Most artists from all medias will create more than the world will ever know. What gets shown to the world will be what they considered their best, the others will sit in anonymity, created but withheld for reasons known only to the artist. So, no matter how much or how little you get published, just keep creating.